Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

1809.]

HEROISM OF ITS GOVERNOR.

289

sword, and belt, all richly ornamenied, were deposited on the shrine of the saint in token of his high supreme office. Like the crusaders of old, the Geronians took the cross, and swore they would resist to the uttermost. The men enrolled themselves under the command of Alvarez, and the women, both maids and matrons, united themselves into an association, called that of Sta Barbara, to emulate their sisters at Zaragoza by performing all the duties which lay within their power.* In June 1808 the town had repelled a coup de main attempted against it by a French division under General Dubesme; and in the following July the Spanish garrison, assisted by two British frigates, under the command of Lord Cochrane, not only resisted a siege in form, but the French General had been obliged to leave behind him in the trenches his artillery and stores, and to march away, after considerable loss, to Barcelona. In the early part of this year St. Cyr had come down to the relief of that fortress in which Duhesme with his whole force was shut up by the Spanish armies under Vivas and Reding, while a knot of Somatenes or armed peasants infested the wooded hills on every side. But St. Cyr defeated the Spanish armies in an action near Iqualada on the 17th of February, and all regular war in Catalonia would have been ended, but that the fortresses of Tortosa, Tarragona, and Gerona still remained in possession of the Spaniards. It was about this time that Suchet arrived to take the command-in-chief of the French army in the east of Spain, with orders to undertake the third siege of Gerona. It was to be specially intrusted, by order of Napoleon, to General Verdier, who commenced operations before the place on the 1st of June. Notwithstanding the extreme vigilance and admirable arrangements of Admiral Lord Collingwood, commanding the British feet in the Mediterranean, a valuable French convoy, under Admiral Cosmao, had succeeded in eluding the blockade and in throwing into Barcelona, on the 7th of May, a supply of stores and ammunition, which enabled the besieging force to commence their duties before Gerona with a prodigal supply of everything.

The garrison amounted to 3,400 men, and was commanded by a general of distinction and trust, Don Mariano Alvarez. Since the period of the former siege, the fortifications had been considerably strengthened, and, as the only existing means of approach for artillery passed through the town, the first requisite was to open a practicable path for it. A good spirit prevailed in the garrison, and, when the summons was sent in on the 6th of May, the heroic Governor issued an order of the day containing these words: “Whoever speaks of a capitulation or surrender shall be instantly put to death.” The town stands at the confluence of the rivers Ter and Onega. at the foot of a gorge or deep declirity under a bluff precipice, on which are several detached forts, which constitute the real strength of the place. The valley of Galligan is the bed of a torrent coming down from the mountains, which flows under the old wall of the town, and at its source divides the mountain into two dominant hills : that of the Capuchins,

* Southey. VOL. II.

U

290

FRENCH FAIL IN AN ASSAULT.

[A.D.

occupied by three forts, and that of Monjuich, on which was a closed work provided with bomb-proof casemates and reveté. The rocky nature of the ground on which these defences were placed rendered the formation of approaches a matter of great labour and difficulty, so that it was already the 13th of June before the fire opened, at one and the same time, upon Monjuich and the town. The event that was so long in coming was not unexpected by the inhabitants, who had taken every precaution in their power to prepare themselves against it. On the 17th the besieged made an unsuccessful sally, but on the 19th the French got possession of the tower of St. Louis. While Verdier carried forward the siege, St. Cyr occupied with his covering force the fertile country around ! Vich, but he now moved his head-quarters up to Caldas de Malavella, in order to prevent succours arriving to the besieged, and on the 21st his army assaulted the Spaniards at San Felice, and drove them out of it after an obstinate resistance. St. Cyr, however, disapproved of Verdier's manner of conducting the siege, but the subordinate officer, strong in the favour of Napoleon, would not attend to the suggestions of his superior, and in the first days of July Verdier endeavoured to attempt to carry by assault a battery of 20 guns, which the besieged had opened in one of the bastions of Monjuich, but failed! with the loss of 77 officers and 2,095 men killed and wounded. From this time forward, however, the siege was conducted with greater prudence and skill, many salutary precautions were taken, and the surer operations of sap and mine were resorted to. An anecdote is related of a Spanish drummer-boy in the garrison, who was placed to watch the mines and shells of the besiegers, and as he was doing 80 a shot carried off part of his thigh. On attempting to convey him to hospital the gallant little fellow resisted, saying, “ I have still my arms left me to beat my drum, and to warn my friends of the approach of danger.”

The mining operations and fire of the besiegers now continued to commit such ravages in the town that its buildings and defences became entirely ruined and all the guns silenced; nevertheless, on the 10th of August Alvarez made a sortie with 1,500 men and retook the tower of St. John, bringing away the wounded who had been left in it when it was taken, yet on the following night the fort was again abandoned to the besiegers, and the garrison withdrawn into the town. The French were now enabled to carry their trenches up to the very walls, which were at the mercy of their fire from! the heights which had come into their possession, and the place suffered horribly, not only from the artillery, but also from the ravages of a fever, which was daily becoming more extended and more malignant, and from the want of provisions. On the 14th15th of August 800 Catalans, under Ramon Fora, got access into the town, but, though this accession of strength raised the spirits of the garrison, the relief brought by the reinforcement was insignificant. Yet no proposal of surrender was heard, and the determination of all ranks to resist the enemy remained unshaken by these calamities.

1809.] EXTRAORDINARY COURAGE OF THE BESIEGED.

291

The Spanish irregulars and Blake, with such troops as he had been able to bring together again, were active in the open country to annoy and interrupt the operations of the siege. The Migneletes, under Claros and Rovisa, attacked a convoy on the side of Figueras, and 9,000 men menaced the communications on the side of Hostalrich. Blake so skilfully worked these annoyances, and so effectually distracted the attention of the besiegers, that Garcia Conde, with 1,500 mules laden with munitions de guerre et de bouche, and 3,000 men, were enabled to penetrate into Gerona, on the 1st of September, and O'Donnel, with a division of 1,500, got even to the heights of the Capuchins, and remained posted there till the 5th. The courage of the besieged was again elevated to an extraordinary degree by these successful adventures, and the besiegers for a time were even compelled to suspend their operations ; but on the 11th the cannonade recommenced, and on the 16th three breaching batteries opened against the old walls. On the 18th these were declared practicable on the side overlooking the Galligan, and Alvarez made all the preparations which skill and courage could suggest to repel the Threatened assault. On the 19th, at 2 o'clock in the forenoon, 4,000 men advanced to the attack. The drums immediately sounded, and the toscin was rung from all the churches in the town, which brought down to the defence not only the garrison but almost the whole population. Men and women, monks and children, entered without confusion upon the duties assigned to each, and calmly awaited death in the unusual service demanded of them for the honour of their country. A terrific fire of artillery covered the approach of the assailants, and scattered death among the crowd of defenders ; and notwithstanding the energy of the attack, the French could make no impression. The fury of the defence was such, that immense stones were hurled down the heights upon the heads of the soldiers, while the discharge of fire-arms was incessant. The struggle was long and severe. Three times did the besiegers attempt in vain to force an entrance, until at length, at about 5 o'clock, after a hard conflict of three hours' duration, they were glad to draw off, with the loss of 600 killed and 1,000 wounded, including 3 colonels and a number of inferior officers, all greatly dejected at this signal failure of their greatest effort.

It was now determined to convert the siege into a blockade, and the disputes between Generals St. Cyr and Verdier having arisen to an inconvenient height, General Augereau was sent to take the command. The situation of the garrison and inhabitants, however, had become one of accumulated and intolerable suffering. Famine was in all their dwellings, and dysentery was so fatal among the population that the way to the burial-place was never vacant. But the besiegers were suffering at the same time almost as much as the besieged from want of provisions. The Somatemes from the mountains round about had rendered their supply extremely uncertain and hazardous, and the vigilance of Lord Collingwood defeated all attempts to assist them by sea. On the 21st of October, Rear-Admiral Baudin, with “ Le Robarte,"

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

80, Captain Legras, “Le Borée,” 74, Captain Laiguel, and “Le Lion,” 74, Captain Bonami, with the frigates“ La Pauline," 40, and “ La Pomone,” 40, and a fleet of armed store ships and transports, broke the blockade of Toulon, and sailed for Barcelona. The British Admiral, who had now established his cruising-ground off Cape St. Sebastian, to intercept the French Admiral, upon learning of the sortie, ordered Rear-Admiral Martin in the “ Canopus," 80, Captain Inglis, bearing his flag, having under him “ Renown,” 74, Captain Philip Dushaw, “ Tigre," 74, Captain Benjamin Hallowell, “ Sultan,” 74, Captain Griffith, “Leviathan,” 74, Captain John Harvey, and “ Cumberland,” 74, Hon. Captain Wodehouse, to chase the enemy. Every stitch of canvas they could crowd was set by the British ships, in the hope of bringlog their opponents to action before dark, but the sailing of the French ships was so good that this could not be accomplished until the 25th, when“ Le Robarte” and “Le Lion,” finding themselves chased too closely, ran on shore near the harbour of Cette, and “ Le Borée” and “La Pauline" only just succeeded in reaching that harbour, although it scarcely contained water enough to float them. The British ships accordingly hauled their wind and stood off, but Admiral Baudin, seeing the mizen-masts of both the stranded ships go by the board, ordered them on the 26th to be fired by their own crews, and both blew up with a tremendous explosion. Admiral Martin, having thus caused the failure of the convoy, returned to report to Lord Collingwood, who, finding that the five ships of war thus accounted for were all which had escaped from Toulon, returned to the blockade, and detached Captain Hallowell with the “ Tigre," “ Cumberland," and “ Volontaire,” with the “ Apollo ” and “Topaz” frigates, to attempt the capture or destruction of the seven merchant-vessels and the several store ships, which had anchored for safety under the roads and batteries of the bay of Rosas. On the evening of the 31st of October, Hallowell arrived in sight of them, when the boats of the squadron were immediately manned, and under the command of Lieutenant Tailour, first of the “Tigre,” pushed off to execute the business assigned them; and, notwithstanding the fire of the ships and batteries, and of musketry from the shore, such was the alacrity of the British tars, that before the day opened on the Ist of November, every French vessel in the bay was either burned at her moorings, or brought off by the aid of a light wind from the land. The total loss to the British in these affairs was 15 killed and 55 wounded, including among the latter Lieutenant Tailor, who was among the foremost in the fight.

Marshal Augereau had no sooner assumed the command of the besieging army before Gerona than he set himself to work to obtain fresh supplies from France, and convoys already began to arrive in the French camp; but, hearing that a great convoy was also pieparing under ()'Donnel, at Hostalrich, for the relief of the besiegid, he resolved to inaugurate his command by driving the Spaniar is out of that town; ard, having now effected this, he became master of the large magazines which had been formed there for the 12

1809.]

HEROIC PATRIOTISM OF ALVAREZ.

293

victualment of Gerona. This event was depressing to the devoted inhabitants, as it not only deprived them of all hope of further relief, but gave plenty to the French camp. Moreover, no hope of external assistance longer remained to the city; and, to add to their distress, the brave Alvarez, whom no danger nor disaster could discourage, was at this time seized with the fever, and reduced to the last extremity. The report now made to the Governor by the chief of the medical staff -a mournful record — which still exists, tells a frightful tale of the horrors which reigned at this juncture within the devoted city. The bombardment had rendered every house uninhabitable, and torn up the streets so that the rain water and the sewerage stagnated in them. The dead bodies of the slain, and of those who had died of the pestilence, lay rotting amidst the ruins. The unnatural atmosphere affected even the gardens, for the fruits withered, and scarcely a vegetable could be raised. On the 2nd of December the guns were again opened against the unhappy city, and this time from the other side of the river. A sortie was repulsed, and the ammunition of the garrison was reduced to a very low ebb, so that the Spanish fire became weaker and weaker. Don Julien de Bolivar had succeeded to the command after Alvarez was stricken, and he now summoned a council to determine what should be done. Further resistance was unanimously pronounced hopeless, and on the 10th, propositions were made for a surrender. Augereau, happy to get possession of the place on any conditions, conceded honourable terms to the brave survivors of the defence of Gerona, who opened its gates to the conqueror, having held out for seven months with a courage and constancy ibat demand an immortality of praise. 4,300 soldiers, with their heroic governor, Alvarez, gave up their arms, but 15,000 had perished by the sword or disease. Alvarez was permitted by the terms of the capitulation to choose any place of residence within the French frontier, but Augereau, with brutal harshness, shut him up in a dungeon at Figueras, where he soon after died. “So long as virtue and courage shall be esteemed in the world, the name of Alvarez will, however, survive among those of heroic patriots ; and, if Augereau forgot what was due to his merits, posterity will not omit to do full justice to both.”*

44. THE SPANISH ARMIES DEFEATED AT OCANA AND

ALBA DE TORMES. The Central Junta, undeterred by the successive defeats of the Spanish armies in the field, still urged their commanders to continue their imprudent tactics, and intrusted to General A reizaja, a very young man, who had gained some experience under Blake, and now succeeded Cuesta in the insane project of an advance upon Madrid. Blake himself had been recently defeated at Belchile by Suchet, and Areizaja, on the 16th of November, encountered King Joseph at Ocaña, on the great road from Seville to Aranjuez. The Spanish

* Napier.

« ZurückWeiter »